What to do in Cognac?

It's a liqueur so famous and precious that it's now part of France's intangible heritage. But it's also a pleasant city to visit at any time of the year, even in winter, when distillation is at its height. With visits to the cellars of the great cognac houses, Romanesque churches and châteaux, boat trips and cycle rides along the Charente, here's a brief guide to the great pleasures of a royal town: Cognac is the birthplace of François 1er, one of the most emblematic kings of the Renaissance!

Must-sees in Cognac

  • The quays of the Charente

Cognac is best savoured slowly, strolling through the old town. On the quays of the Charente, you can relive the history of the salt and brandy trade, which flourished in the 15th century, before plunging into the Middle Ages: the two Saint-Jacques towers (Porte des Ponts) are one of the remnants of this era. A stone's throw away, the Château de Cognac keeps alive the memory of its most illustrious resident: François 1er, the emblematic king of the Renaissance, was born in 1494 in this former medieval building, rebuilt in the 15th century and now owned by the Otard cognac company. Visitors can admire the Renaissance rooms and the King's apartments, which are usually closed to the public (by appointment), and discover the secrets of cognac with a tour of the wet cellars followed by a tasting. Also in the town centre is the Maison de La Lieutenance, with its beautifully carved medieval timber-framed walls.

  • The museum of cognac know-how

Would you like to discover the secrets of cognac production? Come and visit the museum dedicated to the great human, industrial and commercial adventure of this know-how, now recognised as a representative cultural asset of France. Housed in historic buildings, the museum's 2,000 m² of exhibition space invites you to discover the many facets of Cognac country, from its Romanesque heritage to the art of distillation, not forgetting the region's flora and fauna. Films, soundscapes and olfactory games are all part of the entertaining itineraries, including six virtual reality experiences that take you back to the Neolithic period, the age of the dinosaurs or sailing the Charente in a gabare... You'll learn all about this liqueur linked to travel: cognac was born in the 18th century from the practice of double distilling Poitou wines to preserve them during transport to the North Sea.
Visit Les Distillateurs Culturels, the museum of cognac know-how (External link)

  • The paleontological site of Angeac-Charente

The remains of one of the world's largest known dinosaurs have been unearthed here! At Angeac-Charente, 30 minutes from Cognac, in one of the largest deposits in Europe, around fifty researchers and students welcome visitors to share their passion for palaeontology. Using techniques of excavation, cleaning and sorting fossils, you can travel back in time in the footsteps of the animals that once inhabited the region: around 7,000 bones of dinosaurs, turtles and crocodiles have been discovered, including a phalanx belonging to a sauropod, one of the largest terrestrial herbivores! You can also go as far as the Paléosite de Saint-Césaire, Europe's first prehistoric interpretation centre, to immerse yourself in the world of the Neanderthals.
Paleosite, Neanderthal interpretation centr (External link)

  • Jarnac

Situated on the banks of the Charente river, Jarnac is the second capital of Cognac! Here you will find shops, wineries and elegant white stone houses, such as the birthplace of former French President François Mitterrand. Known as the "Maison des Illustres", this typical example of Charentais architecture offers a timeless stroll through the atmosphere of a four-century bourgeois home, with furniture and objects preserved from four generations. As in Cognac, you can also visit prestigious houses such as the Château Courvoisier, with its contemporary glass and wood cellar, or the Maison Tiffon-Braastad and its museum.

Things to do in Cognac

  • Learn about cognac-making.

Create your own XO cognac (minimum 10 years of age) after attending a master blender's workshop in the cellars of the Camus house, take a solar-powered boat trip to the cellars of the Hennessy house, taste a nectar while contemplating the panorama of the city from the perched bar of the Martell house, where over 6000m² is dedicated to contemporary art, take a miniature train ride around the Rémy Martin estate or visit the private apartments of the King at the Baron Otard house... Each cognac house has its own recipe for sharing its taste for excellence. To be enjoyed without moderation!
Maison Camus (External link)
Maison Hennessy (External link)
Maison Rémy Martin (External link)
Maison des cognacs Baron Otard et d'Usse (External link)

  • Assist in the making of an oak barrel.

No cognac without (French) oak barrels! Take a stroll through the woodworking trades, and discover the importance of this noble tree in the production of the precious liqueur, which must be aged for two years (VS), four years (VSOP) or more than ten years (XO), well protected in its barrel. The highlight? Direct barrel-making by a cooper. It takes no less than 2800 hammer blows to shape a barrel! In winter, the distillation season, you can watch the still in action, before inhaling the incomparable aromas of the cellars.
Moines Frères (External link)

  • Create your own Pineau des Charentes.

Did you know? Pineau des Charentes, the sweet wine we like to sip as an aperitif on the banks of the eponymous river, is made from cognac brandy and grape juice. At the Maison Guillon-Painturaud in Segonzac, you can create your own nectar and leave with a personalized bottle. A wonderful souvenir of this colorful and flavorful region!
Maison Guillon-Painturaud (External link)

  • Cruise or cycle the Charente River

Between vineyards, stone villages and Romanesque churches, the Charente River is a great way to explore cognac country: this major trade route since the Middle Ages winds its way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Limousin. In summer, you can board a modern version of a traditional "gabare", and watch the heritage and landscapes go by. But you can also opt for other, more sporty modes. Paddle, kayak or combine canoe and electric bike: the véloroute La Flow Vélo (V92) follows the course of the river, using the towpaths. A perfectly bucolic journey!

Getting to Cognac, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine